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updated: 5/29/2012 11:23 PM

DuPage election board tightens cellphone use

DuPage Election Commission says no to personal calls on government cellphones

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After cutting the DuPage Election Commission's credit cards, the revamped election board has decided to pull the plug on government-issued cellphones being used for personal reasons.

A policy putting restrictions on the cellphones assigned to the agency's top staff was ordered Tuesday by election board members Cathy Ficker Terrill and Art Ludwig. They also made it clear that they don't want their own government cellphones.

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The change comes after Terrill learned that staff members and former commissioners used agency-owned cellphones to make numerous out-of-county and out-of-state calls. Many of the calls were made on weekends. The phones also were used to make "a lot" of transfers of data, such as photos or other files, according to Terrill.

Executive Director Robert Saar said previous election boards didn't prohibit the cellphones from being used for personal calls.

"The policy that the last board and the board before had was, in essence, no policy," he said.

Terrill said her past experience with other governmental entities shows that not having a policy results in staff members using work cellphones to stream videos or send photographs to friends.

"Government-issued property should be used for the purpose of conducting the business of government," said Terrill, adding that the only exception should be during an emergency.

In addition to taking steps to create a cellphone policy, the board also made official plans to take away credit cards from staff members.

Earlier this month, Saar announced that he was closing an account that provided credit cards to himself and the assistant executive director.

Addressing the credit card situation was among a list of recommendations made by the consulting firm of Crowe Horwath LLP, which issued a report critical of the election commission's policies and practices.

Terrill also suggested there was inappropriate use of the credit cards. For example, records obtained by the Daily Herald show a $1,239 expenditure in May 2010 for hotel rooms in Chicago.

Officials said six hotel rooms were rented for one night so staff members and commissioners could attend a conference.

Board members now want the travel policy revised so the agency wouldn't pay for stays at nearby hotels.

"It's historically been a benchmark that you wouldn't use government funds to stay overnight if it's within 35 or 50 miles from your home," Terrill said.

In addition to canceling credit cards and revising its travel policy, the agency is planning to revise its ethics and procurement policies. The changes to those documents are expected to be approved next month.

The commission also is in the process transferring its website to servers owned by the county, a move expected to save the commission an estimated $20,000 a year, officials said. Right now, the website is hosted by one of the agency's vendors.

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